Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The "Lying M-F" Defense

Posted on Wed, Feb 21, 2007 at 4:00 AM

When the late football booster Logan Young went on trial two years ago, the core of his defense was that Young was a free-spending drunk and a braggart. When John Ford goes on trial in April, his defense may well be that the former senator is, as he might put it, a lying motherf-----.

Tuesday’s federal court hearing was a reminder that expressions that might be considered fighting words in another context can be an alibi in the courtroom. The hearing on the admissibility of a $46,000 Rolex watch gave some hints of Ford’s defense strategy. There was no jury, but Ford’s attorney Michael Scholl and assistant U.S. Attorney Tim DiScenza each presented a sliver of their case to U.S. District Judge Daniel Breen in a preview of the trial scheduled for April 9th.

DiScenza’s first witness, FBI agent Mark Jackson, said Ford got the watch from developer Rusty Hyneman for helping him out with an environmental issue before a state board. The government wants to use the watch as evidence in the trial to show what it will claim was Ford’s standard operating procedure as an influential legislator charged with taking $55,000 in bribes from an undercover company. A criminal inclination or “predication” is an important part of the targeting process in a sting operation such as Tennessee Waltz.

On tapes played in court Tuesday, Ford says of Hyneman “I saved that f----- $1.3 million.” Again and again on the tapes, Ford refers to Hyneman as “white boy” and “motherf----r” in trash talk with an undercover FBI agent he thinks is working for E-Cycle Management. On another tape he tells undercover informant Tim Willis that if Ford finds out he is working for the FBI “I got a gun, I’ll just shoot you dead.”

Scholl said Ford is prone to self-centered exaggeration and such talk was harmless “John being John,” and the savings, if any, to Hyneman were much nothing close to $1.3 million.

Secret tapes were a key factor last year in the trials of Roscoe Dixon and Calvin Williams, both of whom were convicted. The Ford tapes are even harder to hear, and Scholl said the transcripts may not be accurate in some cases. The vulgarities and the threats against Willis, however, are clear. Jurors will have to decide if they are serious.

Hyneman took the Fifth Amendment when it was his turn to testify. Breen has not yet ruled whether the Rolex watch can be used as evidence at trial.

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